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Light Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee: Which Has More Caffeine?

Light Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee: Which Has More Caffeine?

Allison Ford | Divine Caroline

January 18, 2011

Go Dark to Lighten Up
Mounting research also suggests that dark coffee is easier on the stomach. According to a study presented at the March 2010 conference of the American Chemical Society, the longer a coffee bean roasts, the more it develops a specific chemical compound, called N-methylpyridinium (NMP). When the researchers exposed cultured stomach cells to coffee made from green beans, light-roasted beans, and dark-roasted beans, the dark-roast coffee caused the stomach cells to release smaller amounts of acid than the other two types. The dark-roast coffee contained more than thirty milligrams per liter of NMP, compared with the twenty-two milligrams per liter in light-roast coffee.

The researchers also tested coffee made from beans that had been steamed, a process that many manufacturers claim reduces coffee’s stomach-souring power. The steam-treated coffee had the least amount of NMP of all—a mere five milligrams per liter. The researchers didn’t have enough data to understand exactly how NMP works to turn off the acid-producing cells in the stomach lining, but it seemed clear that dark-roasted coffee with NMP was the gentlest brew by far. The researchers expressed hope that their findings would someday help lead to the development of coffee beans with higher levels of NMP, which would make the dream of drinking coffee a reality for those with sensitive stomachs.

After so many years of companies’ marketing it as a bold, flavorful choice, dark-roast coffee is among the most popular styles, but the adventurous (or strong of stomach) should consider a venture into the world of light-roast coffee, where the differences between a Tanzania Peaberry and a Jamaican Blue Mountain become obvious instantly. Not all dark-roast coffees are of poor quality, but in general, the more lightly a bean is roasted, the more confidence the roaster is showing in the bean’s quality and taste. A good roaster knows which beans belong with which roast, and tries to treat each to bring out the fullest expression of its taste.

Even though dark roasting is often used to cover up subpar beans, dark-roast isn’t always the unsophisticated choice. It is, after all, the roasting method for exotic beans like Marrakech blend, New Orleans chicory, and Sumatra Black Satin. But whether you start your morning with Folgers Instant, Starbucks, or a boutique coffee brand, all that matters is that you’re happy with the taste—and that your tummy is happy, too.

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